About the exhibition
Gala Porras-Kim is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work questions how knowledge is acquired and tests the potential for artworks and objects to function as meaning-makers outside of traditional museum contexts. Her recent work has investigated the collecting practices of museums, questioning what is being collected, how it got there, and making speculative artworks that imagine what might happen if those objects had a voice and say in their possession and future.
For her exhibition, A Hand in Nature at MCA Denver, Porras-Kim extends lines of questioning into conservation, preservation, and care within institutional contexts to the broader natural world and lived environment. The artworks on view distill natural processes into sculptures, paintings and drawings that will grow, evolve, or degrade throughout the span of the exhibition. From sculptures rendered with salt-saturated concrete or copal resin wetted with local rainwater to paintings created from slow drips of water drawing from the museum’s humidity, and projections from light refractions off of brass panels, Porras-Kim’s work imagine what might be possible if natural forces and phenomenon had the agency to self-determine.
Among the works in the exhibition, Porras-Kim will create new iterations of ephemeral sculptures, scaled for each venue’s gallery spaces. Many of these works will transform throughout the duration of the exhibition, activating depending on the time of day or temperature in the galleries, and growing or degrading (breaking down) while the show is on view. These works include: Forecast Signal (2021-ongoing), which pulls moisture from air in the exhibition space and drips water onto a charcoal soaked fabric that in turn drips onto a canvas creating an image in collaboration with the atmosphere. Untitled (Water Erosion), is a natural performance where a water drip is positioned just above a large alabaster rock. The water drips onto the soft rock’s center, releasing one small drop about every few minutes, just when the previous drop has dried, the sculpture ends when the water has carved a hole through the alabaster. Another work, Untitled (Efflorescence) comprises a large, slim slab of cement cured with extraordinary amounts of salt that “bloom” to the surface as the work dries. A natural method of erosion, pouring salt into old cement is a technique used to naturally degrade older buildings to make way for new construction.
Porras-Kim will also create new versions of All Earth Energy Sources Are Known to Come from the Sun (2019) brass sculptures that are waiting for direct sunlight to be activated. These works will be positioned to interact with the museum architecture, which features multiple skylights that bisect the building and punctuate the gallery spaces. These “restaged” artworks will allow visitors to see for the first time the underlying themes related to nature and the environment that are present within Porras-Kim’s work across varying media.
During a site visit to Denver, Porras-Kim met with scientists at the nearby National Science Foundation’s Ice Core Facility in Lakewood, CO. The National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility (NSF-ICF) is a facility for storing, curating, and studying meteoric ice cores recovered from the glaciated regions of the world. It provides scientists with the capability to conduct examinations and measurements on ice cores, and it preserves the integrity of these ice cores in a long-term repository for current and future investigations. Importantly, these cores contain gas and particles that can provide information about the atmospheres and climates from thousands of years ago assisting with climate change studies. In collaboration with the NSF-ICF, Porras-Kim’s newly commissioned work contemplates Deep Time and the historical knowledge embedded within the landscape as archive. Using deaccessioned ice cores and a technique akin to vacuum sealing, Porras-Kim will create sculptures that allow the ancient ice to melt, while releasing the gaseous “information” stored within the ice into a new sculptural container.
Gala Porras-Kim (b. 1984, Bogotá; lives and works in Los Angeles) makes her work through the process of learning about the social and political contexts that influence the representation of language and history. The work comes from a research-based practice that aims to consider how intangible things such as sounds, language, and history have been represented through different methodologies in the fields of linguistics, history, and conservation. Porras-Kim received an MA in Latin American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (2012), an MFA from California Institute of the Arts (2009), and BA from University of California, Los Angeles (2007). Solo exhibitions have been held at Leeum Museum of Art, Seoul (2023); REDCAT, Los Angeles (2023); Fowler Museum, Los Angeles (2023); Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla (2023); Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City (2023); Gasworks, London (2022); Amant, Brooklyn (2022); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2019). Selected group exhibitions have been held at National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2023); Liverpool Biennial (2023); 34th Bienal de São Paulo (2021); 13th Gwangju Biennale (2021); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2021, 2017); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2019, 2016); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2019, 2017); Para Site, Hong Kong (2019); and Seoul Museum of Art (2017). Porras-Kim is a recipient of the Korea Artist Prize (2023), an Art Matters Foundation Grant (2019), Joan Mitchell Foundation Emerging Artist Grant (2016), Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (2015), and the Creative Capital Grant for Visual Artists (2015). She has participated in residencies at Getty Research Institute (2021-22); Delfina Foundation, London (2021); Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge (2020); La Tallera, Proyecto Siqueiros, Cuernavaca (2019); Fundación Casa Wabi, Oaxaca (2016); Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2013).
Leilani Lynch, MCA Denver's Associate Curator